For Keeps by Natasha Friend

Natasha Friend writes intense novels about teens and preteens coping with challenging circumstances. The issues are pertinent for kids today. Girls in Perfect are dealing with eating disorders. Lush takes on teen drinking. Her books are so popular in our library that they regularly go missing.

Josie's mom, Kate, was 16 when Josie was born. All Josie knows is that her father, Paul Tucci, abandoned them before her birth. In spite of being a single mom, Kate managed to build a satisfying life for the two of them. Then their comfortable, honest relationship is turned upside down by a number of things. First, her father's parents move back into town. Second, Kate meets someone and becomes involved in her first serious relationship since Josie's birth.

Both of these foment distress and conflict between them. To add to the confusion, Josie finds herself dealing with her own first romance, her best friend's teen pregnancy worries, and the usual travails of high school.

I'm pretty sure that not all relationships are as honest as they are between these characters, but I loved the openness anyway. At the very least Friend provides models for what intimacy in its many formulations might become.

Friend's strength is that she creates richly developed characters you can believe are real people. Her books provide opportunities for readers to learn vicariously from their mistakes, while at the same time, developing deeper levels of compassion. Josie and Liv are strong independent young women, the kind I would like to have for a daughter. Matt, Josie's boyfriend, is a decent person. Kate; Liv's parents, Pops and Do; and the other adult characters act like real people living complicated lives.

On top of all this, there's humour. Really, what more can you ask from a book? 

This book has content that necessitates it going on the grade 7 shelf.

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